Did someone mention, “general election“? With April the 8th serving as the legal cut-off point for the holding of the next Dáil vote things are beginning to get a wee bit tense, almost excitable, in Irish politics. Perhaps not entirely unrelated to this is the decision by An Garda Síochána to stage a presentation of arms and equipment seized from “Dissident” or “Resistance Republicans” over the last two years, an event which made something of a splash with sections of the Irish and British press. From a report in Wednesday’s Irish Times:
“Weaponry seized from dissident republicans has been growing steadily more sophisticated over the past five years, according to gardaí.
Assistant commissioner John O’Mahony, who leads the force’s crime and security division, told reporters there was also evidence of increased sophistication in the activities of dissident republicans.
During the briefing, members of the Garda ballistics unit showcased a range of weapons seized from dissident republicans.
They included a beer keg bomb recovered from Kilcurry in May 2014, mortars, sniper rifles, AK47 rifles, associated ammunition, a phone trigger circuit, timer power units, rockets and a sample of explosives.
Mr O’Mahony said the three main dissident groups operating in the Republic were the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA, and Óglaigh na hÉireann.
He said that while the number of dissident republicans is small, they are “very focused and very clear” in their objectives. “As a result of that, we spend a significant amount of time and resources combating their activities,” he said.
Mr O’Mahony said that “idealism and peer pressure” were the most common mechanisms used by dissidents to recruit followers.
“We’ve seen in the history of this country that there will be somebody there to replace others,” he said.
“We are finding that as we disrupt one area, there are people ready to take over. I can tell you that in just the last two years, we have over 30 firearms seized, over 1,000 rounds of ammunition, a number of mortars and rocket-launchers. One very significant find in the last few years was in Co Dublin where we had a significant seizure of semtex explosive.”
To be clear, the “range of weapons” put on display covered the years 2014-15 and came from the counties of Cork, Mayo, Limerick, Waterford, Wexford, Kildare and Dublin. Aside from one interesting development, which will be discussed below, the mixed bag of thirty firearms, some one thousand rounds of assorted and heavily corroded ammunition, several kilos of decomposing explosives and various rusty projectile parts or devices featured nothing particularly new or startling. Quite literally. Though described in most newspaper reports as “machine guns” what was actually shown in the conference were two Kalashnikov AK47/AKM 7.62mm automatic assault rifles and three AIM 7.62mm rifles, a Romanian-produced variant of the Russian AK47/AKM and the default squad-level weapon of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army in the 1980s and ’90s. Indeed these guns, in relatively poor shape judging by the photographic and video evidence, were almost certainly taken from previous (P)IRA stocks at the end of the 20th century and are nearly three decades old (most of which will have been spent in containers buried underground). Added to these were an ancient Sten submachine gun, a UK-made weapon dating to the 1950s or ’60s, and a bolt-action hunting rifle.
The corroded mortar parts put on display belonged to a model-type dubbed the “Mark 17” by the British, which was developed by the technicians of (P)IRA’s engineering department in the mid-to-late 1990s. Indeed, many of these sections may be old, original parts rather than recently milled ones. Likewise the several kilos of badly degraded Semtex-H explosives, presented in large red cases helpfully printed “SEMTEX-H”, also date back to the 1980s. With an expected shelf-life in that era of ten to twenty years under optimal conditions (i.e. not in a hole in the ground) their viability must be highly questionable.
Just about the only firearms on display that may have post-dated the (P)IRA ceasefire of 1997 were the semi-automatic Zastava M76 sniper’s rife, a Yugoslavian-made weapon from the 1970s partially based on the Russian AK47/AKM, and a single Glock pistol, an Austrian semi-automatic handgun. However the Zastava M76 may well have been imported by (P)IRA’s quartermaster general’s department in the 1990s from the Balkans or elsewhere in the former communist eastern Europe while the Glock pistol could have been one of several dozen smuggled into Ireland from the United States by (P)IRA activists in Florida during the same period. This again highlights a point that I have made repeatedly over the last four years. The vast majority of the weapons, explosives and equipment in the hands of the “Dissident Republicans”, a would-be Irish insurgency, derive from the former munition stocks of the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army. Without the popular, if minority, support that (P)IRA enjoyed during the course of the 1969-2005 Long War no campaign of armed resistance to the continued British occupation of the north-east could have been initiated, let alone sustained. It was sympathy or passive acceptance of the necessity for armed struggle that contributed to a well-armed, technically-proficient, regionally embedded guerilla army. Something the so-called Dissidents cannot emulate. Hence their reliance on firearms and explosives taken, stolen or otherwise acquired from old (P)IRA sources, mainly predating the cessation announcement of 2005.
A more interesting feature of the Garda briefing to the press was the presence of four, small and medium sized rocket-style weapons or missiles. In typical fashion the Irish Independent newspaper turned the rhetoric-factor up to eleven, making a not entirely convincing propaganda-association with the “Kassam” rockets deployed by the Palestinian armed resistance in Israeli-occupied Palestine.
“Dissident republicans are developing deadly rockets, similar to those fired by the military arm of Hamas into southern Israel, gardaí have revealed.
A raid by Garda anti-terrorist units resulted in the seizure of a prototype model of the Kassam rocket, capable of being fired over a distance of six kilometres.
The seizure is regarded by senior garda officers as evidence of the increasing sophistication of dissident “engineers” as they develop the technology of their terrorist organisations. After the weapons trawl was revealed, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he was willing to enter talks with dissident groups in an attempt to bring an end to their activities.
Garda technical experts said this was the first time they had come across the self-propelled Kassam rocket prototype in a dissident “factory”. Four rockets were seized in total.”
“Detectives from the Garda national security units seized four rockets last year, including two large ones, modelled on the Kassam rockets used by Hamas in attacks on Israel — the first seizures of their kind here.
Gardaí said the large rockets were “prototypes” and that dissidents were developing them to use on major targets, such as PSNI and British army stations.
Experts said the rockets have a maximum range of 6km and could store a couple of kilograms of Semtex, enough to create a “50ft blast zone” on impact.
The weapons are crude and can only be directed by changing the degree of their trajectory. Gardaí believe dissidents are working on designing guidance systems and are conducting tests in remote locations.”
The term, “Qassam” (rather than, “Kassam”) originally refers to a range of man-portable, artillery rockets developed by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, since 2001, though it has now become a generic term in the Israeli and sympathetic foreign media for any type of “home-made” missile used by the Palestinian resistance. At its most basic the low-cost weapon is made from a single steel tube with a rectangular block of a sugar and potassium nitrate mix propellant at the base, and a conical warhead containing improvised or commercial explosives at the top. Though fitted with fins for basic stability in flight Qassams are notoriously inaccurate, making them more of a “terror” or “counter-terror” weapon than a strictly military one. The rockets seized in the Garda searches, despite the claims above and elsewhere in the press, were all dummy prototypes, that is proof-of-concept models or even – as some have suggested – propaganda tools for photographic and video purposes. None of the four were fitted with propellant, explosives or electronics. Two of them, if they were intended for testing and development, seem better suited to the role of a pre-positioned, short-range projectile for use against stationary or slow-moving vehicles, or fortifications, similar to (P)IRA’s horizontal-launch anti-armour mortars of the 1990s (an example of their use against a heavily-fortified military target can be seen in the video recording below of an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of (P)IRA in 1989). Indeed the two smaller rockets bear a marked resemblance to some models of anti-tank missile.
The methods by which unnamed “experts” can claim that untested, empty tubes have a range of “6 kms” and a blast radius of “50 feet” is beyond me. How are they calculating the propellant-to-warhead weight ratio, the composition of the explosives, the angle of trajectory which increases or decreases the force of impact, and so on and so forth? Taking these as yet unknowable facts with the mixing of metric and imperial measures in the report, I think one can treat all of the above with a pinch of salt (as with previous nonsense stories of a Taliban-equipped New IRA). In any case, if some republican resistance grouping was reckless enough to fire a Qassam-style rocket at a British military or paramilitary installation, given the UK forces deliberate use of Irish civilian properties as “human shields”, the consequences would be disastrous, unless they could improve on technology that even the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades struggle with.
It is worth remembering at this point the occasion in early 2015 when the recovery of another cache of weapons by the Garda Síochána was brought to the public’s attention, but this time from one of Ireland’s sub-terrorist nacro-gangs, a greater threat – in reality – to the safety and well-being of the Irish people as a whole than any number of ill-armed guerillas waging war in the north-east. No rusty, thirty year old, former Warsaw Pact AKMs or AK47s here. Instead we have brand new firearms, including an Austrian AUG Para submachine gun (a 9mm version of the standard 5.56×45mm rifle of the Defence Forces Ireland), a German Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun and a German Sport Guns GSG-5, a semi-automatic rimfire rifle.
That’s some contrast, is it not? Though it is small fry compared to the detention and arrest of a well-known criminal in 2008 who was found to be transporting a haul of weapons including a relatively modern AK74 5.45 assault rifle, a rechambered and upgraded model of the venerable AK47/AKM, and two one-shot anti-tank rocket launchers, a Serbian M80 Zolja and Russian RPG-22 Netto. Yes, a drugs gang armed with primed anti-tank rockets.
All sorts of explanations could be offered for the timing of the Garda conference, and people have not been slow in coming forward with their own. One of the more conspiratorial offerings is the suggestion by veteran Irish journalist, Ed Moloney, arguing that the event was little more than a stunt to drum up support for Sinn Féin in the forthcoming general election. Which takes logic and deductive reasoning to a whole new level.
An Garda Síochana as vote-getting cheerleaders for SF? I think not.
A more likely explanation is one focused on deterring support for Sinn Féin by reminding right-wing and conservative voters of the bad old, good old days of the northern conflict. The only beneficiaries of that would be Fine Gael and the desperate kleptocrats of the Labour Party. Of course there is always this, as pointed out by Newstalk:
“Gardaí say they fear that the centenary of the 1916 Rising will be used by dissident republicans as a recruitment tool for new members.”
Technically An Garda Síochána is the institutional descendant of the Irish Republican Police (IRP), the law enforcement arm of Dáil Éireann during the late revolutionary period. However there are some in the organisation who look to the old, British colonial police, the Royal Irish Constabulary, as their predecessors. One wonders if their concern is less the rising tide of Sinn Féin and more the celebration of an insurrection which led to the eventual destruction of the UK’s paramilitary police force in Ireland? Or perhaps both?